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UW Real Estate Alumni Entrepreneurs

Posted By David A. Walsh, Monday, October 8, 2018

Last week, I had the pleasure of speaking with Badger alumnus Malcolm Sina about his career in real estate, and specifically his experience founding a development firm. Check out our interview below!

 


Malcolm S. Sina is the Executive Chairman and Founder of Sina Companies, a real estate development firm focused on the niche market of healthcare properties. Sina Companies has developed projects in more than 30 states, and has also been involved with commercial office, retail, and hotel projects. Malcolm holds a BBA degree with a double major in Finance and Real Estate and an MS in Real Estate Appraisal and Investment Analysis from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

 

  • Please share your work experience after graduating from UW, and how it led you to found Sina Companies.

o   I graduated in 1979 during a recession. There weren’t many job opportunities, but I ended up joining The First National Bank of Chicago working in REIT swapping, construction management, and new business lending. Then I got the entrepreneurial bug and found a job opportunity with Steve Fifield, who was setting up his own development company. I was the third or fourth employee there, and Professor Graaskamp was my reference for the job. I was there for about 7 years as the company grew before I joined Aetna Insurance during another recession on their real estate team in Connecticut overseeing a portfolio of southeastern properties. After a couple years there, I got the entrepreneurial bug again and came onboard with DASCO Companies, a group in Florida getting into medical real estate development. They were developing small medical office buildings of about 20,000 SF each, but within a year or two had a contract to develop six buildings at 50k-100k SF each. I worked there as the Chief Operating Officer while it grew to a national firm. When the founders left the company, we had to regrow the business and at one point we partnered with Lehman Brothers, whose stake was later bought out by a REIT. The company grew to about 117 people before we were approached by an investment bank representing a large international company and we decided to sell. After helping with the transition and abiding by a two year noncompete, I was approached by my two sons to start a new company. We founded Sina Companies three years ago. Now our pipeline has approximately $250M under contract or in predevelopment, representing about 2M SF around the country.

  • What challenges have you faced relating to entrepreneurship and starting your own firm?

o   The real challenge in starting a firm, especially with development, is having the patience to take the time necessary to grow the company. Healthcare organizations typically have a lengthy approval process. It takes a lot of time to go from the initial start up to having enough business in place to grow the firm and add personnel.

o   The timing of adding personnel is also a challenge. You need to balance not bringing employees on too early yet having the staff to adequately service your clients.

  • What differentiates Sina Companies from other healthcare real estate developers?

o   We’re very good listeners and we don’t have a set program outlining how we do business. We listen to the needs and objectives of the hospital or other client and structure a plan to satisfy those needs, rather than using a cookie cutter approach.

o   Being a nimble, entrepreneurial company, we don’t have long drawn out processes. We can negotiate a plan with the client on the spot and commit to it.

o   Our involvement in 9 million SF of healthcare projects across 30 states means we have seen a lot of different situations. That experience across the country is helpful when we talk to a new client about how to meet their needs.

  • When you started Sina Companies, what were your long-term goals and how have they changed over time?

o   Our original business plan was to have just the three of us on the team, not focusing just on healthcare, and primarily doing projects within an hour of our office in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.

o   We started getting calls from past clients, brokers and consultants who knew of our integrity. Now we’re happily looking at more and larger projects than originally anticipated and thus we’re bringing more people onto the team. We’re also doing non-healthcare real estate. We are excited to venture into senior living and industrial in the first half of 2019.

o   One of the principles we founded the company on was that we would only do projects with people we trusted. We still do most of our work today on a referral basis.

  • How have you been involved with and/or benefitted from your WREAA membership?

o   When we’re going into a new market, one of the first things I do is check the WREAA membership book and see who’s in the area for opinions on a site or connections to a contact at a hospital. Everyone who I’ve called, whether we’ve met before or not, has been very open and willing to provide their advice. You know they came from the same great real estate program, so regardless of age their opinion is worthwhile.

o   We are trying to do our first Connection Fund deal and look forward to giving back in that way.

  • What advice do you have for current students who may wish to start their own real estate firm at some point?

o   Timing is everything when starting your own company. Just because someone is bored or wants to do their own thing doesn’t mean it’s the right time to take the leap.

o   Make a realistic business plan and have someone who has done it before to compare notes with. For any assumptions of timing in the business plan, add 6-12 months.

o   Don’t underestimate the value of working at another firm and learning how they operate. My experience at First Chicago and Aetna allowed me to understand how to approach and work with large firms from that side of the deal.

  • You’ve also worked with faith based, non-profit, and university organizations. How do these special groups present new challenges compared to a typical for-profit client?

o   There are interesting intricacies depending on the organization, such as tenant use restrictions. Also, universities or publicly owned hospitals have certain steps they need to go through before signing on a project. One must recognize there are certain conditions you have to live with and approval processes to go through that you don’t have with other clients.

  • What do you read? Do you have any recommendations for students or real estate professionals?

o   Most of my reading is related to our business. I read journals and emails focused on real estate and/or health care. We need to understand the health care industry as well as real estate so that we can know the expectations of our clients.

o   I’m currently reading I Love Capitalism, by Ken Langone, the founder of Home Depot. It’s a fun read that also covers his days before founding Home Depot.

 

WREAA extends a sincere thank you to Malcolm Sina for taking the time to speak with Student Ambassador David Walsh. You can learn more about Sina Companies at sinacompanies.com.

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